You notice that a friend winces when they make a normal movement. Or you see bruises more than a few times and hear excuses that just don’t ring true: “I fell down the steps” or “I bumped into something.” These are some of the visible signs of domestic violence. Just as damaging, but harder to detect, is the psychological harm.

About every 20 seconds in the United States, women, children, and men suffer the effects of domestic violence – both physical and emotional. 

Physical violence often starts with emotional abuse, which is used to frighten, control, or isolate the victim. Is emotional abuse the same as domestic violence? Most experts agree that it is a deceptive form that wears down the victim’s self-worth, confidence, and mental and emotional strength. 

Signs of emotional abuse 

How do you know if you or someone you know is being emotionally abused? 

The perpetrator might embarrass the victim publicly, keep them from friends or family, or take control of their possessions, such as their phone. Verbal abuse, such as belittling the person’s accomplishments and using demeaning language, are typical. Other signs include extreme jealousy or threatening to hurt him/herself or the victim. Gaslighting is another form of emotional abuse, which involves telling the victim they are too sensitive, are overreacting, or that their memory of events is incorrect

Bystanders and loved ones might notice the following signs in victims: forgetfulness or distraction that impacts productivity or ability to care for others, changes in eating or personal hygiene, substance abuse, and isolation. Physical problems like frequent migraines and other aches and pains are common. The victim might also apologize frequently, expressing that no one believes them or that they have lost meaning in their lives.

 Mental health impacts of domestic violence 

Whether physical or emotional, domestic violence can cause long-term mental health effects. Does domestic violence cause depression? Can domestic violence cause anxiety? How about PTSD? Yes, yes, and yes. Those who are victimized have significantly higher risks for these mental health conditions. 

Domestic violence and anxiety frequently occur together. Anxiety might manifest itself in panic attacks, heart and chest pain, trouble sleeping, hyperventilation, and edginess. How about domestic violence and depression, which is a serious condition that impacts how you feel, think, and act? Symptoms include loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities and consistent feelings of sadness, tearfulness, or emptiness. Domestic violence and depression are also evidenced in brain fog, weight changes, irritability, and extreme fatigue.

October is Domestic Violence Month. While no one is immune to the manipulative, coercive influence of an abuser, victims can find support and strength from family, friends, and others. In Philadelphia, call 1-866-723-3014 (free) to reach a Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline counselor or 988 if you have a mental health emergency.